Beating Swords into Wind Turbines, or Solar Panels if You Like

During last week’s Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrations, President Bush exhorted Americans to “stay the course” in Iraq. With that reminder of our current and future obligations, perhaps it’s a good time to consider what we could be doing with the money spent on waging war in the Middle East and heed the Biblical injunction to beat swords into plowshares.

Rather than plowshares, what could the United States have done if it beat its swords into wind turbines or, if you prefer, solar panels? What could we have accomplished toward building a renewable future here in North America instead of launching a war in the oil-rich heart of the Persian Gulf? The answer is simple: a lot.

Wars are expensive and the money used to pay for them can be used for something else. To date, our Iraq misadventure has cost Americans $208 billion. And we’re not finished yet. As Senator Everett Dirksen once said “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money”.

Early estimates put the cost of the war closer to $300 billion. It now looks like we’ll shoot well beyond that. At nearly $80 billion per year, if we “stay the course” as the President urges us to do and stay locked in combat for years to come as Secretary Rumsfeld warns, we could easily surpass one-half trillion dollars.

This is just to give a range of possible futures. We’ll stick with the current cost of the war, as this is the cost of lost opportunities: lost opportunities to develop our own solar and wind industries, lost jobs, and lost renewable generation. Keep in mind though, that the cost of the war and the opportunities lost could double those presented here.

Wind Plowshares

At the cost of today’s wind turbines-not some future cost- the money spent on the Iraq war to date would have resulted in the installation of nearly 70,000 two-megawatt wind turbines. Depending upon where these wind turbines would be located, they could generate from 2,000 to 3,000 kWh/kW/year of installed capacity. They would produce from 280 TWh to 420 TWh per year. With the United States consuming 3,900 TWh per year, the War Turbines could produce form 7 to 11 percent of total U.S. electrical consumption.

If, on the other hand, the money were used merely to extend the ill-conceived Production Tax Credit, the war in Iraq could pay for a staggering 1,000 TWh of generation per year for ten years, the equivalent of one-fourth of total U.S. electrical consumption.

Solar Plowshares

Photovoltaics remain expensive relative to wind energy, but the industry is rapidly expanding in Japan and Germany. Japan currently operates 1,100 MW of PV generating capacity and Germany will reach 1,000 MW of installed PV by the end of this year. Nevertheless, if the United States redirected its war expenditures toward PV, we could quickly overtake both countries.

At the current cost of PV installations in California, the funds spent on the war in Iraq could have resulted in the installation of 21 million one-kilowatt PV systems across the country. That’s sufficient to provide one-fifth of the dwelling units in the United States with a PV system.

War Panels alone could generate 30 to 40 TWh per year or about 1 percent of total consumption-a not negligible amount in a country that uses so much electricity.

More significantly such a large-scale development program, reminiscent of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, would push America to the forefront of solar photovoltaics technology, enabling us to not only meet our own needs for clean, renewable electricity, but also enabling us to ship panels to distant-shall we say “foreign” lands-to help them meet their more modest needs.

Perhaps in the future we can ship wind turbines and solar panels to the Persian Gulf instead of our sons and daughters.

About the author…


Paul Gipe has written extensively about wind energy for both the popular and trade press. He has lectured widely in Europe, North America and the South Pacific on wind energy and how to minimize its impact on the environment and the communities of which it is a part. For his efforts the World Renewable Energy Congress honored Gipe as a “pioneer” in 1998 and the American Wind Energy Association named him as the industry’s “person of the year” in 1988. In 2004, Gipe served as the acting executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association where he created, managed, and implemented a provincial campaign for Advanced Renewable Tariffs. And above all, Mr. Gipe is a prolific author of wind power books, including Wind Energy Comes of Age, which was selected by the (American) Association of College and Research Libraries for its list of outstanding academic books in 1995. For more information on Mr. Gipe and to see other titles of his on wind power, see the following link below.

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